-Messenger photo by Barbara Wallace Hughes
Greg and Bev Baedke wrap freshly baked apple turnovers at Community Orchard, 2237 160th St. The Baedkes arrive at 5 a.m. to pop the turnovers in the ovens.
While most of Fort Dodge is still sleeping, Bev and Greg Baedke are baking pies, dumplings, turnovers and muffins.
The owners of Community Orchard don't seem to get much sleep in the fall.
Apple Fest is Saturday and Oct. 2
The annual celebration is always held on the first full weekend in October. This year, the festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 2.
In addition to all things apple, there are games, hayrides and a band. Admission is free, and pumpkin pickers are welcome to select their favorite cucurbita from the Pumpkin Patch.
In coordination with Apple Fest, the Fort Dodge Noon Rotary Club and Trinity Healthy Living will hold the third annual Applefest Run and Celebration on Oct. 2. Race-day registration will be from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at St. Edmond High School, 2220 Fourth Ave. N. Entry fee that day will be $25; proceeds will benefit the "Every Option, Every Hope" Trinity Cancer Center capital campaign.
Bev Baedke's apple tips
"When you are making a pie, you really want a contrasting flavor with your sugar. That's one of the reasons we use Haralsons and Wealthy in our bakery most often. They're very similar to each other." Haralsons are extremely versatile, and the Wealthy adds tartness.
"A lot of people think yellow apples are soft, which isn't necessarily true. They also think that if an apple is soft to eat, it will be soft when you cook it, that it will mush up. That's not true. You can have a soft, mushy apple and eat it, but if you cook it, it may not mush up, it may stay in slice."
"It's important to keep moisture on your apples when you're keeping them in your refrigerator, and it's important to keep them in your refrigerator." Keeping them moist, by putting a damp towel over them in the fridge will help apples keep their crispness much longer, she said.
Typically, they go to work at 5 a.m., "but we've been here as early as 2:30," Bev Baedke said.
She may not love being at work quite that early, but Baedke said she has no problem with the wee hours.
It's quiet and you don't have the phone ringing. I think we get as much done in three hours in the morning as we do the whole rest of the day put together," she said.
Autumns at the orchard mean seven-day-a-week work weeks.
"We have no life in the fall," she said.
The "bakery crew" comes in at 7:30 a.m., but the name is a bit of a misnomer.
"They make, not bake," Baedke said. "They bake some things, but for the most part, we do the baking."
When the Baedkes arrive, they head into the orchard's bakery and take all of the previous day's production - unbaked dumplings, pies or whatever - out of one set of freezers and move them into a different freezer to free up the bakery racks for the current day. While they're relocating the pastry, they have the ovens on so they can bake whatever's needed for the day.
"We're out of there when the bakery crew comes in, so we're not in their way when they're doing their production," she said.
On a typical day, that production would include around 300 pies, 1,200 dumplings and 55 to 60 trays of turnovers, all produced by a four-woman crew that rolls out dough, peels apples and assembles the products.
Community Orchard added the bakery in 1975.
"The first few years," Baedke said, "we just sold frozen pies. We didn't start baking until close to 1980."
A German baker who had worked at Randall's grocery taught them how to make pie crust; the apple dumpling recipe came to them from a customer; and an Illinois orchard shared its turnover recipe.
But much of the culinary creativity comes from the Baedkes who created their own take on muffins, granola-style apple crumble and apple crisp.
Aside from pure apple confections, Greg Baedke makes all the English toffee the orchard sells and tweaked the recipe for the caramel that coats its caramel apples.
Bev Baedke makes all the fudge, although she is teaching an employee her candy-making secrets.
All the apples, apple pastries, toffee and fudge are sold onsite. However, it's a different story when it comes to apple cider.
"About half of what we make is sold wholesale, at Hy-Vee and Fareway," Greg Baedke said.
Community Orchard will continue to sell fresh apples through Christmas, but the Baedkes are still at work after the orchard closes for the season. They spend time going to meetings, reading periodicals and networking with other growers to make sure they anticipate trends and have the right apple trees planted in their ground.
For example, one of their best sellers, Honeycrisp, takes about five years to produce a good-sized crop," Greg Baedke said.
Honeycrisp, developed in Minnesota, was released to buyers in 1990, and the Baedkes began planting it about 1995, he said.
"We started off with 100 trees, and we have 1,600 of them now," he said.
But, their success has come with setbacks. One year, they lost 500 trees to fire blight, a disease similar to Dutch elm, and had to replant all the trees, Greg Baedke said.
While Honeycrisps have been a best seller - second only to Haralsons at the orchard, which ripen in late around the first of October - the next star may be on the horizon.
"We have a new one that's going to come on strong," Bev Baedke said, "as soon as we get more in production. ZESTAR! is a Minnesota apple, it's sweet and tart, with a hint of brown sugar flavor. We only had a hundred half-peck bags this year."
"They were gone in two days," Greg Baedke said.
"Everyone who tasted them, grabbed them," Bev Baedke said.
Keeping up on consumer trends also plays a big role in the orchard's success.
"We used to sell most of our apples, all of our apples really, in our very famous half-bushel box, and customer trends have changed," Bev Baedke said. "People will come out and buy their frozen products and they'll buy a bag of apples for fresh eating. I think they come more often, but as far as apples go, they will buy a smaller quantity at a time. Our half-bushel boxes aren't extinct, but they certainly don't sell like they used to.
"Typically," she said, "people let us do the baking for them. There's not a lot of people who come in and buy 10 half-bushels of No. 2s and go home with their friends, peel apples all day and make sauce. Those days are kind of gone. You still see some people, but not very many will do that."
Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or email@example.com